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California attorney general to investigate L.A. City Council after leak of audio with racist remarks

The probe will determine whether state and federal laws tied to voting rights and transparency were broken, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaks during a press conference in Los Angeles.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta at a news conference Wednesday in Los Angeles.Hans Gutknecht / MediaNews Group via Getty Images file

California’s attorney general announced Wednesday his office will investigate the Los Angeles City Council to determine whether any laws were broken after an audio recording of racist remarks surfaced this week.

“The investigation comes on the heels of leaked audio revealing deeply concerning remarks tied to the city’s 2021 redistricting efforts," Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement.

The independent probe will seek to determine whether there were any violations of state or federal voting rights laws and transparency laws, Bonta said.

City Council members Nury Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo have apologized for their roles in a meeting last year, which was secretly recorded.

Martinez resigned as council president this week, and she announced Wednesday that is resigning from her seat on the council.

In the leaked audio, Martinez likened the Black son of council member Mike Bonin, who was 2 years old at the time, to an animal. She is also heard on the recording implying that the county’s progressive district attorney shouldn’t be supported because he’s “with the Blacks.”

The 2021 audio was from a political strategy meeting attended by a handful of Latino Democrats on the council. It was first reported Sunday by the Los Angeles Times.

The meeting, which Bonta said was about redistricting, was attended by the three council members, as well as Ron Herrera, the president of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Bonta said in the statement that he was “deeply appalled" by the remarks from some of Los Angeles’ highest-ranking officials.

"Their comments were unacceptable, offensive, and deeply painful," he said. "There is no place for anti-Black, antisemitic, anti-Indigenous, anti-LGBTQ, or any kind of discriminatory rhetoric in our state, especially in relation to the duties of a public official.”

The recording surfaced on a Reddit discussion board this month but was deleted. The source of the audio is unknown, and NBC News hasn’t determined whether it has been edited.

The remarks about Bonin’s son concerned the child’s behavior at a parade in 2017, when he was 2 years old. Martinez used a Spanish term to refer to the boy as an animal.

Martinez also dismissed Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, a justice reform advocate who is reviled by law-and-order politicians and has survived two Republican-led recall attempts, as unworthy of the support of the people in the room.

“F--- that guy. He’s with the Blacks,” she said.

Also on the recording, de León called Bonin, who is white, the 15-seat council’s “fourth Black member.” De León said Bonin doesn’t support Latinos — that he has never said “a peep” about them.

Martinez asked why Bonin allegedly thinks he’s Black, and de León responded, “His kid is.”

De León — a San Diego-raised politician who rose to statewide prominence as a legislator and then unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Los Angeles — suggested Bonin treated his son like a fashion accessory, a handbag.

Herrera didn’t appear to utter any racist remarks. He did say the group’s support for a leader to take over the seat for a traditionally Black district should be someone who would be an ally on Latino interests.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Herrera offered his resignation at a meeting Monday night with the federation’s executive board, which accepted it.

At a raucous City Council meeting Tuesday that was delayed by an outraged crowd calling for Martinez, de León and Cedillo to resign, council member Mitch O’Farrell, serving as acting president, agreed and said it’s time for the three members to move on.

“The court of public opinion has rendered a verdict, and the verdict is they all must resign,” he said.

A council meeting Wednesday was also met with a hostile crowd that disrupted the beginning of the meeting more than once. O’Farrell eventually said the meeting was canceled when it failed to reach quorum. Martinez, de León and Cedillo did not attend the meeting.

Bonta said in his statement Wednesday: “The leaked audio has cast doubt on a cornerstone of our political processes for Los Angeles.

"Given these unique circumstances, my office will investigate to gather the facts, work to determine the truth, and take action, as necessary, to ensure the fair application of our laws. We will endeavor to bring the truth to light as part of the sorely-needed work to restore confidence in the redistricting process for the people of our state.”